‘Shining Girls’ creator on adapting her favorite novel for Apple TV+
June 21, 2022
There are a lot of serial-killer shows on television but Shining Girls is unique. The film is based on Lauren Beukes's novel and is not afraid to dive into the aftermath of trauma. The show is helmed by Silka Luisa (Halo). The piece embraces the changed sense of reality that survivors feel after major traumatic events, and all devices to this effect work very, very well.
Kirby (Elizabeth Moss) was assaulted in a gruesome way and her attacker, Harper (Jamie Bell), is a time traveler. Kirby finds that her reality is constantly shifting after her attack. Sometimes it’s her hair, or where she left her coffee cup. Sometimes it’s realizing she doesn’t remember she was married.
Adapt what you love
Luisa talked about the challenges of adapting a novel she strove to bring to the screen for many years.
“I would say most importantly if you are going adapt any kind of work; a novel, another TV show, a foreign TV show, it’s very important that you yourself love the material and feel like you have an understanding of the intention of the material, including the world view of the author. I read the book when it came out in 2013, and I was a huge fan. It had done something so original and clever so I approached the project with a lot of care and love and respect for the source material. Also, Lauren was such a huge supporter and was very happy with the direction we took. She understands why we made the choices we made and she supports them.”
Collaborating with Multihyphenate-Moss
There are early murmurs of Moss winning more Emmys® for her turn as Kirby. The nuance of her performance throughout is impeccable. She also took a turn in the director’s seat to helm a few episodes this season. When asked about their collaboration Luisa was enthused:
“Creatively she is a very close collaborator on this project. As we were breaking the season she was a touchstone and a resource in terms of navigation of Kirby’s arc over the season. It was very delicate to balance because at the beginning of the season, it’s [actually] six months after the event has happened to her. The events of the pilot pull her and force her to start looking into it. Over the season, it was important to us that she doesn't just charge forward or that it to feel disoriented… recovery can feel like two steps forward and one step back, and we wanted to reflect that.”
Silka gives a voice to the survivors
Like many survivors, Kirby also deals with being believed. At times, she struggles to believe her own stories. Luisa spoke of often gravitating toward Cassandra's stories: “Kirby starts out disoriented and tries to understand what has happened to her and why. Once she does have that info it helps her confront Harper… a lot of female viewers have reached [out] and connected with how difficult it is to not only articulate what happened to them, but then to try to get other people to understand."
Silka continues, "The whole show is dealing with trauma and the aftermath of trauma, and one aspect that is so difficult is how isolating it is…. Because Dan does understand her and believes her and even advocates for her, their relationship is really the heart of the show.”
Reimagining & reorganizing the POV
On a show with so many time jumps and reality jumps and very tiny subtleties marking each, Lusia spoke on how the team kept track of it all: “We spent time in the writers room on our mythological rules… We also did timelines for every single character instead of having an object of time and how time works, each character had their own two-week timeline. We also had a whole lot of charts.”
A large difference between the novel and the show is that in the novel, Harper’s character is given much weight and much of the story is told through his eyes. Luisa always knew she wanted to tell Kirby’s story above all else and found Harper challenging to write.
“It’s an ugly space to put your brain in, and it was very important to me that we didn’t make a serial killer that was sexy…. It’s Kirby’s story, she is our anchor. She is the character who we're all getting behind and hoping wins the day. It was about calibrating how much time we spend with Harper, how much access we have to his POV, and how sympathetic his backstory was…ultimately he a sociopath… he’s a man who is easily made insecure and he stumbles upon this great power; he’s using it to feel more important…when I felt like I fully understood him, it became easier to write him.”
As the show awaits decisions on a Season 2, Luisa is ruminating on what a new season could mean: “I think there are endless possibilities and different avenues for the show going forward.”
Fans will just have to keep waiting, but in the meantime, they can escape into Kirby’s rich world of time, place, and music, one the writers worked hard to create.
A lasting story engine?
“For me, it was really about being able to look at the world of print journalism in the 90s and that has changed so much, that and the Chicago Sun-Times is a very important institution, and setting a show in that world was a huge draw for me. Also, the music supervisor did an incredible job. It’s such an important part of the show. There’s so many different time periods, and it was important to us to try to find songs that were not needle drops, but still really capture the music of the time period. Songs that sound like ‘87 but you don’t quite know that song. The music really became its own character.”
After bingeing the show it feels super exciting to see where else the writers could take these characters, but Luisa also did an excellent job getting Kirby’s full journey from the book on screen: “I hope at the end of the season, there’s a sense of hope. Kirby goes through so much, and she’s so disoriented for so much of the season… that she can confront Harper, and having that final scene of empowerment was really important to capture. At the same time, it's not a completely clean victory, and that felt like the right place to end the season.”
Written by: Lindsay StidhamLindsay holds an MFA in screenwriting from the American Film Institute. She has overseen two scripts from script to screen as a writer/ producer. SPOONER, starring Matthew Lillard (SLAMDANCE), and DOUCHEBAG (SUNDANCE) both released theatrically. Most recently Lindsay sold PLAY NICE starring Mary Lynn Rajskub. The series was distributed on Hulu. Recent directing endeavors include the Walla Walla premiering (and best screenplay nominated) TIL DEATH DO US PART, and the music video for Bible Belt’s Tomorrow All Today. Lindsay is currently working on an interactive romcom for the production company Effin' Funny, and a feature film script for Smarty Pants Pictures. Lindsay also currently works as an Adjunct Screenwriting Faculty member at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. You can follow her work here: https://lindsaystidham.onfabrik.com/